Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. May 13, 2024.

Editorial: Health care apprenticeships make sense

There was an interesting article on the wire the other day about health care apprenticeships in Wisconsin. It was focused on the La Crosse area and the relationship between UW-La Crosse and Gundersen Health Systems, but it has interesting implications for Wisconsin as a whole.

The hospital’s president was quoted as saying the students who apprentice come into their careers “light years ahead of other people.” We’d believe that. There’s a big difference between knowing theory from the classroom and having had any hands-on experience. While both are needed, the latter teaches in an entirely different way.

Then there was this quote from Amy Pechacek from the Department of Workforce Development:

“In the state of Wisconsin, apprenticeship is an earn-while-you-learn model. Our apprentices are not only having a paycheck coming in while they’re on the job — and learning real life, hands-on skills — but they are also getting paid for their associated instructional time in the classroom, which is an amazing way to not take on a ton of student debt.”

That’s no minor point. The cost of postsecondary education is a major problem, with students racking up debt far beyond what previous generations had to deal with. It’s causing many to rethink college entirely which, if that trend continues, has the potential to produce significant negative effects through the economy.

Many people know the health care industry is in need of people, and that the need is going to increase in the coming decades. But a look at a report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in October shows just how acute the need will be.

Through 2032, health care and related fields “are projected to experience the fastest employment growth … . The aging population and growing prevalence of chronic conditions are the main drivers of the strong projected job growth.” Of the projected 4.7 million new jobs created through 2032, fully 45% of them will be in those fields.

Some chronic conditions could be avoided if Americans adopt more healthy lifestyles, but we’re not aware of any way to beat aging. The demographic balloon of the Baby Boom generation is rapidly hitting the point where age-related issues are coming to the fore.

The youngest boomers, those born in 1964 at the very end of the generation, are 60 now. The oldest boomers are pushing 80. While some break the group into two cohorts, the reality is that the generation’s check engine light has been on for a while now. That’s not going to change.

Age-related conditions are on the increase as the boomers progress through their golden years. Approximately seven million Americans have gotten an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. That figure will rise to nearly 13 million over the next 25 years. Parkinson’s disease is rising as well.

Even without such life-altering diagnoses, the simple reality is that other conditions tend to arrive with age. Arthritis is an annoyance for many, rather than a massive disruption. That doesn’t mean they don’t need access to treatment, though, even if it’s aimed at just keeping things from getting worse.

The idea of health care apprenticeships is one that deserves to spread. The opportunity to give young people a leg up on their careers, while simultaneously taking some of the cost out of the equation, is an innovative and encouraging approach.

We know the wave is coming. How we prepare now will have a great deal to do with how society will be positioned to handle developments in the coming years. The apprenticeships strike us as a very good step in the right direction.